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Brooks and Marcus on shutdown stagnation, Michael Cohen report

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the historic government shutdown, a report that President Trump instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress and the growing list of possible Democratic candidates for president in 2020.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, the shutdown was just one of a handful of major stories this week to rattle Washington and point directly to the Oval Office.

    To help make sense of it all, the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away.

    Hello to both of you.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Hi.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, the shutdown.

    David, they were it again this week, but no movement. Is one side — we saw what the poll results are saying, but is one side winning this, or not?

  • David Brooks:

    No. They're all losing.

    It's gone from like junior high food-fight to nursery school sandbox fight. I don't know. It just gets worse.

    And, weirdly — I don't want to get too grandiose, but it reminds the World War, the lead-up to World War I, where each side thinks the other side, surely, they will cave. But neither — and they're both vastly misestimating the other side. And neither side thinks they're going to cave. They both took the other side will cave.

    And so it gets worse and worse. I have been moderately hopeful in the last couple weeks. That's all evaporated for me.

    And I blame Trump, mostly. I blame the Republicans in the Senate a lot. I really think, if there's a key leader who can get us out of this gridlock, it's Republicans taking some control in the Senate and saying, we're going to go forward with something. If Pelosi and Trump want to come with us, that would be good.

    There has to be some way forward to get out of just the gridlock.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But Mitch McConnell, Ruth, has he's not going to touch this until he knows what the president would sign.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Indeed.

    And he — his view is, let everybody else work it out. I — when I was negotiating that — and finding deals, that was with a Democratic president. So now let the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, let him handle it.

    Nobody wants to be involved in this, because it's so — it's both solvable and intractable at the same time. It's solvable for all the reasons that caused David's optimism, and it's intractable because there is nothing to gain with your own base that you have to worry about by solving it.

    And you started out by saying that nothing happened this week. But I think, as David said, actually, something did happen this week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well…

  • Ruth Marcus:

    It got worse.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, forgive me.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Ruth Marcus:

    We're worse off this week than we were a week ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

    And now, we are told, the president is going to make a — quote, unquote — David, "major announcement" about all this tomorrow. Somebody was speculating maybe he's going to announce an emergency, the government's going to take over this and do the wall itself.

    But a lot of — there's some reason to think he might not do that.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I hope he doesn't. I think he won't.

    Often, major announcements are only major in the minds of those doing the announcing. They seem like just restatements of the same position over and over again. So, we could see that. Who knows. I don't know.

    I would be surprised if he did the emergency thing. That — there's just so much upset, even in the Republican Party, about that. That — if there's anything that would lead to the weakening of the Republican-being-stuck-with-Trump position, that would do it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Ruth, you don't see any inkling that one side is feeling more heat than the other side?

  • Ruth Marcus:

    I don't. I think they are each dug in.

    They want the solution, but they want the other person on the other side to blink first. I thought I — earlier today, I was worried that I was being too negative. So I did a round the phone calling on the Hill. And what I discovered was that I simply wasn't being negative enough, that I talked to folks who were like, I have been around for all these shutdowns, and this is the worst I have seen it, and I don't see the way out of it.

    I almost wonder if there wouldn't be some element, as much as people would balk at the notion of declaring the emergency at this point, since it seems so bleak, to get out of it, if they wouldn't give a little bit of a pass for that.

    I think that — I'm not encouraging that. I think it would be dangerous and constitutionally dangerous. But we have to find some way out of this also.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So maybe it is World War I all over again.

    So, the other thing that happened overnight, David, is, you have this report — only one news organization so far — but BuzzFeed is reporting, they're quoting law enforcement sources as saying that the investigators have evidence that the president told his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    This is significant for a couple reasons. One, it's a felony the president allegedly committed while being president, unlike all the previous stuff. And then it is a bit of a — he's president of the United States or running for office, and he puts the U.S. national interest behind his own interest in getting a Trump Tower built in Moscow.

    And so these are both very serious things. David French of "National Review" pointed out that, in Michael Cohen's sentencing agreement months and months ago, this was right out there in the open for all of us, that Cohen's lawyers said he did — he lied to Congress because person number one, Donald Trump, told him to do it, and he didn't have the strength to resist.

    And so that suggests there's some meat to this. BuzzFeed is a real news organization, it should be said.

    And the final thing, the thing that is of interest to me in the BuzzFeed report, you can't tell whether they have written evidence. They say there's a trove of documents. They say there's a trove of e-mails and texts. But is there an actual piece of paper with Donald Trump saying, lie to Congress? That would be pretty explosive, if that exists.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Or a recording.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Or a recording. Lordy, let there be tapes, as somebody said.

    If true, this is beyond explosive. It's not just an impeachable offense, but an offense that you could actually imagine even this Republican Congress not just impeaching the president for, because, of course, that's up to a Democratic House, but convicting him and removing him from office for.

    But it would require not only for it to be true, but for it to be evidence that's more than simply a swearing contest between one person with a history of less than truth-telling, the president, and another person who is an admitted liar, Michael Cohen.

    So, not the — not the best witness for the prosecution or the impeachment prosecution. But if you had evidence to back it up, this is really, really a serious allegation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it looks as if, David — I mean, talking to Jamie Raskin, who's involved in House leadership few minutes ago, it looks as if at least the Democrats are talking about an investigation, whether they move on to the impeachment.

  • David Brooks:

    Right.

    And a lot of this is about putting the Republicans — the Democrats where they are — where they — are we really going to impeach, or are we not? Where does their emphasis go?

    This is an interesting debate on the left. Do we want this guy impeached, or do we want to vote him out? Which is better for the country? I think voting him out would be better for the country.

    But if — as the evidence mounds, you really have no choice.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    It's interesting.

    I know many Democratic members of Congress who believe, as David said, they would be better off running against Donald Trump than against whoever the Republicans would put up in his place.

    But this is, as Jamie Raskin was suggesting, an insult to the very constitutional system, the notion that you could, as a sitting president, suborn perjury, about an — not just about a general matter of government, but tell somebody to lie in order to protect your own business interests and your own private conduct.

    That cannot be allowed. The reason we know it can't be allowed is that Bill Barr, the nominee for attorney general…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Said so.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Said so in hearings with questions that now sound prescient.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Confirmation hearings.

    Well, David, it looks as if a number of Democrats who are interested in being president themselves are not waiting to find out whether there's going to be impeachment proceedings or not. They're out on the campaign trail.

    They have either formed an exploratory committee or they have said, I'm running.

    We can name a few of them, Elizabeth Warren last week. And then you had the former Mayor of San Antonio, Mr. Castro.

  • David Brooks:

    Castro.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have you have this week both Tulsi Gabbard, the congresswoman from Hawaii, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, just to name a few.

    Is there a message coming through from any one or all of them?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, there's a message from all of them, which is, I'm sorry, which is, they're all apologizing for something.

    Bernie Sanders is apologizing because this campaign had alleged sexual harassment, Kirsten Gillibrand because she is sorry because she used to support gun rights. Others are sorry because they have had positions on gay marriage.

    And so what's happened is, the Democratic Party has moved left. And so all the candidates are catching up and apologizing for their past views.

    And so this suggests that not all candidates stay in the same place based on their own personal convictions all the time.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Candidates changing, so amazing.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Ruth Marcus:

    I'm struck, looking at this group that you mentioned, simply by their diversity.

    We're in a new era, where being a woman running for president doesn't mean you're this sort of unique standout in the field, but there's a whole flock of them. Being African-American, being Hispanic American, just — it's a new world in the Democratic Party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    This is — we're not going to see another Democratic ticket that is a two-white-guy ticket, I think not just in 2020, but going forward.

    And the shape of this emerging Democratic field is an illustration of that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes. And it's early to be asking you what their messages are, other than the apology, but we're all listening. I mean, at this point, they do need to be saying something, don't they?

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Yes.

    And, interestingly, I think they all recognize that they need to be saying something that is not simply, just get rid of that Trump guy. So they need to be talking about income inequality. They need to be talking — there's a lot of talk about that's Trumpy-ish talk, right, about rigged systems and rigged systems rigged against the little guy. That's what we hear from Elizabeth Warren.

    What I'm waiting for in this field, though, is for it to get even bigger and to see whether some of the big guns come in. And the person I'm particularly watching right now is the former Vice President Joe Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Joe Biden.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Who seems to be edging closer and closer to this, who really would be the sort of one of these things is not like the other in this field in terms of a much bigger presence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They probably all think of themselves as big guns, but that's…

    (CROSSTALK)

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    That's why they're running.

    I'm wondering if there's a tension. Gillibrand, I was struck by the language she used in a diner this week. It was mostly about being a mom, and whether there's a tension between doing that, there's a new kind of leader, new demographics, new diversity sort of identity or economic populism.

    And is there a tension between those two different messages? Maybe you can do them both, but the emphasis will be different for different candidates.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to bring it back quickly to the Republicans and to the vice president, the vice president's wife, second lady, Karen Pence, David, who announced this week — at first, it sounded like an innocent announcement — she was going back to her love teaching art.

    But it turns out she wants to teach at a Christian school in the Washington, D.C., suburbs which happens to have a policy of not accepting employees who are LGBTQ.

    What do you make of the decision by the Pences?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, first, I don't want to be — I wouldn't be a member of any school or organization that made that policy and don't support that policy.

    On the other hand, this is actually a tough issue. There's a tough issue between non-discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and — on the one hand, and religious liberty on the other.

    Every orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim organization has similar views on homosexuality. And some people hold those faiths deeply and really. And to say that they're not allowed to practice their faith is a problem. That's a real problem. Also, having organizations that discriminate is also a problem.

    So I have been struck, frankly, by the press corps that don't see this as a problem, that see it as a straight out bigotry. It's just not. It's a complicated issue of how we try to reconcile these two different liberties.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Unfair to ask you to do this in 20 seconds.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Really complicated, just one piece of an issue that we're going to be debating for the next years to come.

    Karen Pence has the right to believe what she wants. So does this school. And churches have the right to believe what they want.

    But it's my right in the right of many Americans to find that really offensive to people who are gay, to people who are trans, to people who the Supreme Court has said have a right to marry each other.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you both, David Brooks, Ruth Marcus. More next week. Thank you both.

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